What is LRN? What are Webcomponents? Why is it the future?

If you’ve been paying attention to twitter, I’ve been rambling on and on about 1 thing lately. #Webcomponents / #Polymer. Depending on the tweet I use one or both. It’s not that I’ve left the #drupal community or converted elmsln over to a different platform; it’s that I’ve found a design paradigm that I can’t un-see.


Let’s back up a bit.. What are Web Components? Webcomponents (of which you can find many on the webcomponents.org community site) are moving along as a recommended W3C specification (hasn’t 100% stabilized yet but it’s been in the works since about 2014 when Google really started pushing the idea and currently all major browsers can support them via polyfills or javascript filling the gaps). In other words, really smart people that meet to discuss the direction the web should go have said that all browsers should natively support the concept and are largely in agreement about the way to do it (very different from when they were proposed in 2014 with no route to implementation).

Webcomponents aren’t actually 1 standard, they are 4 standards that when paired together, make web components possible. If you are interested in the 4 specific standards you know how to google but TL;DR version:

  • Webcomponents are made up of Custom Elements that are Imported into the page
  • This is a fancy way of saying a <custom-html-tag-like-this> can be added to any webpage like this <link rel=”import” href=”../custom-html-tag-like-this/custom-html-tag-like-this.html”>
  • Modern browsers implement a “shadow dom” approach meaning that it renders the contents of custom-html-tag-like-this.html meaning that it doesn’t need a compiler like Angular or other web framework in order to render (which means much faster then them at doing so), then at run time sees the <custom-html-tag-like-this> tag and goes “Oh, I should throw this in its place!”. Shadow Dom also enables “scoped CSS” which basically means that elements present themselves exactly like they do in documentation as opposed to influenced by global CSS.
  • Browsers have all agreed (to varying degrees of implementation thus far) that these make sense
  • This isn’t really that different from the HTML5 <video> tag as far as how the browser processes that to build a player to run the video

What’s in a custom-html-tag-like-this.html file?

That’s the best part, everything required for just that single tag to do it’s magic. So you get a very clean file that has dependencies (since webcomponents can reference other webcomponents), css for this component, normal looking html (though it could also be other <custom-tags-that-you-made> since they stack just like normal HTML), and javascript to define custom properties and functions.

We’ve been working on many but I think lrndesign-blockquote is one of the most straight forward examples we’ve produced thus far. This allows us to wrap the <blockquote> element in a structured way so that we can provide new options / attributes. This will allow our end users the ability to write something like:

<lrndesign-blockquote decorate quote=”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” citation=”An old dusty book”></lrndesign-blockquote>

and have it show up in the browser like it does here.


So now that we have working knowledge of what a Webcomponent is we can jump ahead to Polymer. Polymer is a google backed community / open source project that effectively helps solve the chicken and egg issue of developing against new standards:

  • Chicken: Developers will only implement the standards browsers have
  • Egg: Browsers only implement the standards developers will use

To combat this (and provide general efficiency when building) Polymer has created what are known as Polyfills, or javascript that fills in the gaps in browsers to support different aspects of a specification. These Polyfills progressively enhance IE 11, Edge, Firefox, and Safari in order to make them able to support all aspects of the Webcomponent specification as best they can. The idea being that these training wheels can be taken off / modified as the other browsers implement the 4 parts of the webcomponent specification.

You didn’t mention Chrome or Opera

Correct, because all aspects are natively implemented in both which means your webcomponents you produce run crazy fast in Chrome and Opera, as if it’s no different from normal HTML!

Polymer also comes with a Command Line Interface and some other efficiencies when building webcomponents that make it much faster then building without. Basically a single command of polymer init in a blank folder asks you prompts and then starts downloading and positioning code in the right places.

Then running polymer serve –open and polymer will start a mini-webserver to serve up your element as a documentation site like this one. It’s pretty damn magic and incredibly easy to get oriented to.

So this is all on your generally less-technical ELMS:LN blog because…

Because we’re working actively on building out our own series of custom HTML elements intended for ELMS:LN but we are planning and developing them in a way that they will be usable by any educational or non-educational solution. These tags will all be open source individually and packaged in a way via our ontology that allows for remix and reuse in amazing ways.

LRN – Webcomponents for learning

We’ve prefixed these tags with three letters to make them very easy to read and say as a sentence: LRN. This also is abstracted from “education” so that we can share terminology and design needs with training and mooc communities of practice. You can see demonstrations of our current tags we’ve built through our webcomponents.org organization page.

lrn is broken into 4 levels of tags which you can read about in our ontology documents. These are:

  • lrn – an instructionally focused group of elements
  • lrndesign – a design focused group of elements
  • lrnsys – a behavior / system layer group of elements
  • hax – lrnsys tags which are more repurposable then even lrn so named differently

Together, we can build a well documented style guide for the expression of educational concepts that will have no system specific boundaries. These elements can be loaded into any system connected to the internet so long as the tag definitions are imported. In ELMS:LN we are obviously doing this via a Drupal integration, but there’s nothing stopping us (or you) from running these in any other solution you can come up with!

Design elements (lrndesign) are abstracted from logic (lrnsys) and purpose (lrn) driven elements. Instructors / instructional designers would then be able to write an html tag that has the exact purpose of what is instructionally significant about what they are trying to write instead of constant translation of concepts and assets to code tags. It also will allow us to build a method of content construction we are code naming HAX (short for headless authoring experience).

Video showing our shared future

This is a video I shot just as I was about to make a new webcomponent. It jumps in right at the point that I’ve copied an existing one and renamed it, so it’s a bit of jumping around talking through what works and how it works while at the same time me just coding / fixing some issues that pop up. We’re always looking for people to join us both as developers and idea people sharing how they could utilize something like this best for their needs. Let us know what you think!



I’ve written before about the journey I’m on. How I see our work, where I think it’s going and some of where it’s been. Call it high altitude, conference high, I don’t know what; but I had to do stream of consciousness for the thoughts in my head. This is what spilled out, turned into paragraph form instead of 140 characters at a time

I was in deep thought / meditation / prayer one day in 2014. I said, my work life has no real purpose, the thing I do every day at work, it’s just that, work. It only benefits a few 100 people, which is neat; I contribute code, help people in small ways which is great, but not lasting.

In that quiet. I found clarity. I found a design for what I should be doing, abstraction beyond abstraction. Designing for the unknown and encouraging the unknown, designing to be able to capture and sustain innovative efforts instead of losing them in one-offs and white-boards. A problem that everyone seemed to articulate but no one could recognize an answer it. I said this doesn’t exist, and I couldn’t unseen the picture in my head. A series of interconnection following the same pattern. A fractal in my mind.

I had to pursue it. I drove myself into the ground physically working towards it while trying to be a good husband and father to two under age three; struggling to be a good family member in the ways I knew how. The parent dilemma as I’ve been told it’s called. The vision was a huge time blackhole.. and the more I talked about it, the more I realized no one got it. I was alone in my own head, no one to look to for advise, no one to collaborate with, no one to encourage my idea. They couldn’t see the picture in my head or understand why as a concept it would be useful.

I had a talk accepted at a small event in Ohio, 100s of miles from where I work. I was really excited to talk about this idea and show, something, anything that would start to demonstrate it. My heart sank as only 5 people we in attendance for that talk, 2 of them people from back home that were good friends of mine. I swallowed and said “screw it, it’s still worth it” and laid out the vision, starting with my moral obligation to my kids to build a better world in whatever way I knew how.

And for the first time in a year, they got it. People I knew and had been explaining this to for months finally had their eyes opened to what I was trying to express. This was early 2014. Later that year, I had a talk accepted at DrupalCon (1st time ever). I laid this concept out and the state it was in. There were 100 ~ 120 people there, and there was interest and some excitement… but nothing happened.

I got accepted to OpenEd 2014. I presented on this idea as being key to laying the groundwork for open publishing systems, an OER factory and the way of liberating our institutions knowledge silos while achieving their public-good mission we are all put in place to serve. A friend from twitter tweeted “LOOK AT THE PASSION” as I was practically brought to tears describing the thing in my head to a group of people that would be eager to hear about it. I had a few questions, some good ideas and enough energy to generally sustain me emotionally afterwards. But still. Nothing happened.

I dug deeper then I knew I could and took my game to another level as a developer. I went from being a simple Drupal developer with dozens of contributions to a Full-stack developer versed in Javascript, CSS, Bash, Drupal, PHP, GIT, and any library I could get my hands on that I knew I’d have to figure out in order to achieve my dream. My friends started to notice the change in me. That this incredibly unserious, sarcastic late 20s colleague, wasn’t just working to get the job done; he believed in something. And finally, after years in the dark and almost 2 years of rambling about this vision… something happened.

My friends and colleagues started to believe in what I was talking about. They saw how passionate I had become about not just code and donation of effort. They brought their code, their time, their ideas, their take on what I was doing, and together, we all started to make it our own. They started looking into jobs they could take where the jobs could be accomplished using the approach I was talking about. At times, they took opportunities paying less money and having less job security to get a chance at working on this vision. They started working after hours, nights, weekend commits would roll in, issues would be discussed at social gatherings. And not only did the vision become shared, but our friendships grew stronger. “They” don’t work for Me or “My” project, we work toward our shared vision of the world we can make possible. Better, together, forever open source.

From those days, and meetings and blog posts, and videos, and code commits, we started to slowly attract adopters. People could see not only that this was an interesting idea, and that they wanted to play with it, but that they actually could play with it. The vision was becoming a real, tangible thing. No longer a dream in my head, our diagrams on our whiteboard, but a real thing people could touch and experience, people who had no idea what it was starting to grasp the concept in less and less time. My tone changed, my duration of session to get to the payoff changed. Hour long talks could be consolidated into 30 minutes, then 10, then 5, and now an elevator pitch with visualization to back it up.

Excited, I submitted for OpenEd as did a friend, but we got rejected. And for the first time ever, I said “I love and support this event, I’m going anyway” (something difficult to justify financially to the same degree as presenting as unfortunate reality). I listened attentively, picked up new ideas, new ways of speaking, new design patterns / use-cases I hadn’t thought of and others that were validated by going. The whole time I worked. And people in the audience, a solid mix of builders and users of OER, kept peaking over my shoulder, saying “Ooo.. what’s that?” seeing a terminal window, code, and a webpage that looked like something worth OOO’ing about.

Then, I sat in a session by people I respected a lot at a technical level. A random person in the audience asked a question about LRS technology. The answer, while valid, wasn’t really in depth. He seemed genuinely interested in seeing an LRS. So, as an LRS is part of ELMSLN (via Learning Locker though any will work), I walked over and asked if he’d like to see the one we use. As I started to show him learning locker and where our statements came from, he kept saying “No no, wait, what’s that, show me that system”, referring to ELMS:LN. I detoured a bit, showing him ELMS integration w/ Learning Locker via xAPI, how well that works, how early we were in doing it but that it’s the way forward. He gave me his card, said we needed to talk some time (a line I’ve heard too many times to ever get excited about beyond validation in that moment of work).

And an email showed up a day later, asking to do a little Skype call. Cool I thought, I’m always happy to show people Learning Locker.

We got on the call, and then another with more people, because little did I know, I wasn’t there to show them learning locker, the CIO’s office of BYU was extremely interested in ELMS:LN and my design methodology as it related to xAPI for distributed learning profiles. We discussed how we all envisioned using a distributed series of solutions controlled by the institution (or at times, not, just recommended) and developers to improve upon, bend and eventually break the LMS paradigm of singular, giant systems into a lego grid. We talked xAPI and how it’s critical in achieving this objective.

Someone got it. From no one in months, to someone in seconds. They got the approach and wanted me to show other people, so I just attended BYU’s UniversityAPI Unconference. It was a pretty incredible experience which I’ll do a separate debrief on because it’s a great event and I learned a lot.

For me though, to be presenting to members of BYU, Duke and other institutions, and have it be about the big picture (I talk on the minutia of Drupal usually) it’s a dream come true. I feel like my life’s work is starting to stick, because I laid down my shields, contribute openly, pursue contributors openly, build others up, help and reach out to anyone I can and try to get them using Drupal, Open Source, and maybe, someday, ELMS:LN to achieve the mindset that we have about education and it’s influence on society through technology.

We’re at a tipping point, I can feel the wave of emotion that comes with that tip. We’re not just onto something, we can demonstrate worth and it makes me want to NEVER discourage a big idea ever again. No matter what it is, if you can dream it, if you can stick with it,you can do it. This is fuel as much for you the reader, as it is for me, as it is a life lesson for my children when they get older.

Be. Just Be.
Be laughed at. Be ignored. Be told to shut up. Be told it’ll never work. Be told no one will get it. Be told you can’t make the world a better place. Be told “no open source project has ever been successful when originating in Higher Education”. Be told no one will adopt Drupal, let alone ELMS:LN. Be hated. Frowned upon. Misunderstood.

Just be, who your God, your worldview, your community, your industry, NEEDS YOU TO BE. And nothing less. Ignore the doubters, the naysays, the negativity. Because if people are telling you it’s impossible, in the age of singularity, automation and mass creativity at scales the world has never seen before, then you know you must be onto something.

Seek out those who build you up, distance yourself from those who tear you down, but always be willing with open arms to welcome them back in. Don’t scoff. Don’t “I told you so” or “That’s what I’ve been saying”. Just smile, be happy that they’ve escaped the trappings of their mind to see the world you are expressing (again, no matter what that world is).

We don’t just have code. We have an idea; and to quote V, from V for Vendetta; “Idea’s Mr. Creedy… Are bullet proof”. You can speak anything into existence if you just keep believing in it. Don’t back down, don’t let the negativity of this world, of the social media sphere, or your community get you down.

I am incredibly humbled today and ready to take a much needed break to think and reset. When I return, I’ll be refreshed and ready to keep setting the road ablaze with potential. We are… ELMS Learning Network. And we’d love to have you join us to build a better world! One line of code, one conversation, one course, one solution, one learning, one smile at a time, we will build a better world.

A response to `Of OER and Platforms: Five Years Later`

Original post: https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/4892

I didn’t want this to get lost in the comments section but I found this post by David Wiley spot on, especially in his dissection of the LMS in the comments. As long as the LMS is still a dumping ground of stuff as opposed to a link farm out to innovation, it will never be innovation.

My response down in the comments, cleaned up to be a stand alone post:

Hollowing out the LMS is the only road they have towards innovation; if one of those common launch points was an OER provider that could be at least slightly more useful but I agree that when faculty treat their course as more of a website (via Paul Hibbitts GravCMS approach — http://www.hibbittsdesign.org/blog/) it’s the way forward.

Dr. Chuck is working on Tsugi to app-ify the LMS and unbundle it as well, which could make OER proliferation more possible at the system level. In this model, Sakai and other systems are effectively hollowed out *by design* via LTI launches, content item launches, and the items pulled in (innovations) are small decoupled stand alone applications —  https://www.tsugi.org/

I also have my own methodology in the game that sees the LMS fragmented (architecturally) so that policy can be crafted in a way that allows open aspects of course (content) to be open while closed experiences (private student – teacher engagements) can happen securely along side. We are building a self-federated ecosystem meaning any new part of the system can talk to any other new part of the system once it shows up. So we’re always able to account for the NextBigThing (n+1 thinking) in education or build new things the market hasn’t conceived. https://www.elmsln.org/

All three of these approaches are signs of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) which is NOT a product but a mindset and a way of implementing education online, which I think will directly result in greater adoption (or at least production as Open first) of OER. When systems are unbundle, ownership and privacy can be unbundled as well, leading to more robust, reusable solutions.

Speaking of unbundling, make sure to checkout OERSchema which ELMSLN seeks to use as a way of allowing Markdown Files (pure, portable, open by default) from Github to be able to populate and flush out content, interactions and more in ELMSLN (or any system).


I’ve been battling a lot of demons recently. You know them, they are the same 3 that we in open source and community work so often face. FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Certain events had led me to this point. Being generally overwhelmed by the pressures that increased success and scope of work bring, I keep focusing on the things left undone, unfinished, broken and still on the white-board; when something hit me the other day.

Daemons of progress

Fear – We won’t finish this, we’ll never finish this. What if it’s wrong? What if it doesn’t do what I think it will? What if I’ve sacrificed thousands of hours of my children’s childhood for something unattainable.

Uncertainty – We’re down a developer, will we get this back on track, how will we replace this need and keep moving forward. What’s awaiting me via email today to derail all progress?

Doubt – This will never catch on. What am I doing with my life. What’s the point. No one gets it. Who cares.

Standing too close


Pointillism is an art form in which hundreds of thousands tiny dots form a painting. These dots when viewed to closely, just look like noise; a chaotic mess of tiny brush strokes, each with minor variations in color perhaps, but at the same time too similar to really tell what it is.


As we back up from the painting slightly we still see chaos, a pattern but yet still chaos of blotches thrown upon the canvas.


Public Domain, Wikipedia

It is only when we truly step away from the canvas that we see it’s true form; the clear picture of what it is we are trying to paint, one dot at a time.

This is elms learning network, from my perspective as the developer. I can see what we’re going for but sometimes I’m so focused on the dots that I miss the big picture of what this really means for well, education. When something is your life’s work, it can be hard to look back on something while building it. Much in the same way we get lost in the whirlwind of building a family, a career, a life so much so that day to day at times can seem routinized, almost mundane; but when we look back on memories, moments in time, we see how special what we have truly is.

At the end of the year, like any year, I’m usually shot; emotionally and physically. I need a reboot, and I got one in a way I didn’t expect. I watched myself. While trying to put together a talk for some conferences, I wanted to see the way I talked about the platform the last time I submitted a talk there (2014). Drupalcon 2014 ELMSLN talk

What I saw I almost couldn’t believe.

As I rambled for 20 minutes, trying to be funny (emphasis on trying), I start demo’ing this crazy thing I’m talking about. It includes no less then 5 different interfaces, all at different states. A build breaks during the demonstration. It’s UI patterns are non-existent, just an idea, a lot of urls, broken builds, no UX, no users. Just an idea being put forth by a crazy person that couldn’t understand why no one got it. Duh, I don’t know how to use it at this point.

What I needed

I got. I needed to see that what we’re doing now is the dots. We’re changing the hue of our dots, we’re sharpening the image a pixel point at a time, but the picture is becoming a lot clearer if we’d only step away from it. As I compiled these highlights below, I am humbled and grateful for the contributions of our budding community. One thing becomes clear as we step away from our dots: We’re killing it!

  • We gained another full time developer on the platform (which, we’ll be refilling in 2017) bringing us up to 3 internally + several IDs across units influencing / bug testing + 2 part time student developers. (in 2014 this was 1 + 2 ids)
  • Buttercups in the UK is hiring a PHP / Drupal developer to help support and build out ELMSLN further for them. (in 2014, this wasn’t a thing)
  • We had 13 different people make core commits to ELMS:LN this year, 5 from primary core devs, 2 from faculty, 2 from IDs, 4 from Drupal developers during sprints (in 2014, there were 4 total)
  • There have been 18 point releases this year, up from 2 the previous year, seeing us go from 0.0.2 to 0.6.3 with 0.6.4 (more bug fixes) & 0.7.0 (stable studio) expected early in 2017.
  • We closed (an insane) 1,215 issues in 2016 and at present have 114 issues open!!
  • We adopted MaterializeCSS as our design framework and unified all themes in our network under this brand (previously we had no design standard) and applied it successfully to all systems in the network
  • We adopted xAPI to start doing learner analytic tracking across all content and starting to visualize it for faculty and staff, as well as doing survey and self-check tracking.
  • We had a faculty member get ELMS setup on his own and talking to Learning Locker to start doing response tracking in H5P!
  • We’re now able to ingest markdown / flat file content and turn it into outlines of material (this is rather insane)!
  • There were 3 ELMSLN Sprints at different Drupalcamps this year (PA, Ohio, and NJ)
  • ELMSLN was presented at 6 different events, did a major drupal podcast interview and was presented in 2 webinars. It’s also already got 3 accepted talks for next year at major education events (2 at Educause ELI, another to be announced soon), an invite to be announced soon to speak at a major FOSS supporting university, and 2 webinars planned.
  • We built multiple accessibility tools, including a voice based navigation system (crazy)
  • We stabilized and moved into production our Media and Interact solutions, moved into beta Studio and are far along into building quiz / testing capabilities for the assessment system.
  • We built 2 core APIs, one for scaling back-end jobs / internal processes and one for Angular / JS based app development
  • We had 2 commits to Drupal core accepted from testing and feedback in use in ELMSLN!
  • We’ve got one deployment on EC2 that’s got 40k users!

As I step back now, I see the picture we’re building together, and it’s pretty amazing. All we have to do is keep going, keep making things easier to use with more capabilities, keep pushing the envelop and keep pushing forward because the only thing we have to fear is FUD itself.

Happy new year! Let’s make 2017 brighter, bolder, and more usable then last year (and the one after, and the one after…)!!!

We can no longer turn our nose to an industry

I sat quietly, removed from the rest. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know if I had any ability to fit in; I don’t speak the same language. The language of a rhetorical academic (even that I’m sure is used incorrectly). And so, out of my element (by choice) I sat and listened to an amazing speaker discuss his journey from insider to… outsider. This is the issue of a cross-sectional as well as those who both need and can generate new technologies; living on the bridge between universes (but that’s a good thing).

I sat, listening to the keynote address the crowd as if they were family. He was one of them. He came from them, he had been where they had been and been in their community for some time. He had ascended the ivory tower, to which I’m sure some showed scorn (after all, pure research is why we get into this gig). He then related this fact (that they probably hate him for doing so) to friendly chuckles.

He then started to talk about how he built a product that some of them used and that while this was an idea that he had been working on within an institutional organization, that the structure itself would never allow it to overtake the corporate stronghold of a single player in the industry. He then said that they considered making what they were doing open source, but that it could never been open source and be successful because no open source solution has ever started in academia and been successful (a point that I reject but still).

Feeling the mood shift in the room when he talked about having to incorporate, he stopped and said what was pure gold for me (not exactly quoting):

I see how you responded when I said we had to build a company. It’s antithetical to how we academics want to operate. But I’m actually trying to do something. We can all complain about how much we hate _________ and turn our noses up and feel good about ourselves. We can skip using that product and encourage our peers to do so as well, but guess what; All your universities and college are still paying them. So they’ll still suck, and they’ll exist forever. So this is me taking a stand, because we need more options.

Some of this is that it was several months ago at Computers & Writing 2016 that I heard this talk ( I believe) so the quote is off; but much of the context remains. If no one stands up. If everyone simply scoffs at what has become the status quo and doesn’t provide a challenge to it; it will remain the status quo. And we’ll feel great, wow will we feel great. We hate “the man” and we rail against the system of control that our lesser colleagues just can’t see through. But we do nothing to provide them with a different solution.

In technology, much like in politics, you don’t catch flys with vinegar. You don’t win people to your system, your way of thinking or your way that you know leads them to freedom by being an ass and simply thumbing your nose at the establishment.

Don’t do what simply feels good. Do as Alinsky said

Do one of three things. One,go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves.Two,go psycho and start bombing-but this will only swing people to the right. Three,learn a lesson. Go home,organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates.

Real change doesn’t come through violence, hate, anger, or self-loathing. Real change comes through building community, organizing, and doing whatever it takes to become the thing that the next generation will grow to hate: the establishment.

The only way to usurp the establishment is to become that which you hate. If you desire change more then you desire winning, you know what to do. Polish, refine, always accepting feedback, always improving, always accepting any minor victory and not focusing on the lost battles, always accepting the new, always accepting.

Quit writing about how badly edtech needs change or how bad players in the industry are. Quit talking about what a cash cow this market is (looking at you TechCrunch), all the while decrying that the educational industrial complex as too expensive and too often missing the mark. These wailing walls do us no good but sure feel nice to relate to.

Go home, organize, build power. I have for some time now… and while it takes me from my family and friends, while it shifts my focus to commits instead of conversations, while it is devastatingly lonely at times to feel as I feel and work as I work towards unachievable goals… we are building something. Because while I used to be just I or the royal we… there is we now. And soon, we will be that much stronger; together.

Join us. The future wants your help. It needs your help.

Faculty Rising, the next 10 years.

I’ve worked in higher education for nine years now and finally found two blog posts basically sum up every experience everyone has had (but never wanted to write down). The first by Michael Feldstein is titled “What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems“. Spoiler alert: The structure of institutions (committees, bureaucracy) is not conducive to purchasing innovative big box solutions (shocking).

The second is by Martin Weller in “IT services – we need to talk“. More spoilers: Faculty are treated like children by an institutional predisposition to IT being the only solution to problems, a stance that in practice is disempowering.

The important thing to get out of the way here is no one in the hierarchy is to blame directly and none is being placed (even if it sounds like it is). This is more a railing against the way systems of governance have manifest and not those that work within them. Think of it in the same way critics of the military industrial complex is blaming the system of people, not soldiers.


It is in reading these two posts that I feel comfortable publishing an idea I’ve had rumbling around that I’ve called DDoSA. Similar to a DDoS (distributed denial of service) in the technical realm, humans can use a a DDoSA to influence the usage of technology within organizations.

The thing I don’t mention in the DDoSA concept, is that it’s actually a better alternative to the lack of recognition that DDoSA are already happening. We just don’t want to admit it or know what to do. What if instead of discouraging “dissent” the better alternative was to encourage it?


Right now, when faculty don’t like options provided by an institution (which is high) what do they do?

The IT establishment: Those damn faculty, we can provide them with what they (mostly) asked for and they aren’t happy so they just do their own thing.

“Rogue” faculty: Those damn IT people, we provide requirements and they don’t meet them so I’m just going to have to use ____ to run my course I guess.

The DDoSA is happening already at every institution in ways that can’t be easily quantified or controlled; it is random and diverse because the deployed solutions at the institution are minimal. Someone does a class poll on google, they use twitter to collect attendance, they require people submit things with an unverified 3rd party service. Why? Is it because they want to break *GASP* policy?! No! It’s because this is the path of least resistance while maximal gains (meeting pedagogy, hoping to improve learner outcomes through experience design).

When IT cedes this point, that they don’t have all the solutions is when we can meet in the middle and more securely encourage sustainable innovation. Currently, the human hierarchy and goals of the individuals are out of alignment with the structure of the organization. The humans are organized loosely in a distributed manner yet are “encouraged” to utilize singular solutions to problems. Because education encourages exploration, innovation and autonomy, autonomous educators pursue innovation which they view as everywhere the institution is not.

The future of institutional deployments

By leveraging automation, virtualization and the structure of our institutions we can start to put humans back into harmony with the organizational structures that have emerged.


Many people, many structures, few solutions

Today (and yesterday)

Let’s start with today. We’ve got a (simplified of course) 3 organizational / institutional checks and balances between the faculty and the LMS / VLE / tools of their choosing.

People at all levels of the hierarchy have had input on the decision and everyone needs to be made reasonably happy. Unfortunately, we’ve all got different (at times competing) visions of uniformity. This conflicts starts to become reflected in the masses being unhappy and turning to other solutions for much of their learner experience (in who knows where).

People are an endless sea of ideas all supposed to unify and rally around a singular solution. This is political parties as well; how’s that working out? Singular vessels for too many ideas.


Unification around college level solutions, few more solutions

Tomorrow (2-3 years)

Let’s remove one level of centralization and replace it with an IT solution; in this case, middleware. The top-level of the institution, in this case centralized management of a singular solution has been replaced with middleware.

In this LMS / VLE future, the solution is one level close to adoption to those adopting. In this future people coalesce around what makes the most sense for their college to use. This is probably in better alignment with the needs of their fellow faculty.

After all, do we teach Arts, Philosophy, Physics and Health all the same in a classroom? Are our classroom environments for these diverse subjects not different based on the needs of that topic?

This isn’t perfect, but it’s a better form of tool selection. By making the solutions college centric, patterns will start to emerge for institutional IT in charge of the middleware. They’ll notice that 4 colleges are utilizing 80% of the same applications and be able to craft automated deployment solutions that help with managing these diverse toolsets.


Faculty cohort groups formed around technology selection, more solutions, less people, less hierarchy.

The next day (4-6 years)

People like control, and crave more of it. We’ve been able previously to meet people in ways that better hit their needs because we’re closer to their problem space. Now working groups for more boutique solutions can arise.

These groups start to break away even within colleges. Specific sciences may not have need for a virtual lab technology that another does. We may find that across colleges there is overlap in needs and that competing virtual lab tech exists.

Duplication, in this instance, is a really good thing. Because now we can have these groups review each other’s usage of the technology and figure out which is “best” (or if something actually is best). We may find that a WordPress vs Drupal dichotomy emerges (where better is in the eye of the beholder based on intricacies in the problem space).

Faculty are in greater control of the solution space because they are finding alignment with smaller teams of cohorts that also utilize the same technology solutions.

Institutional and College level IT can coordinate middleware and remote management solutions to automate much of the roll out and empower faculty to take things further then they could have alone.


Bring your own NGDLE, one solution per person if desired.

The future (7-10 years)

We’ve completely eliminated connotations of institutional, college or departmental “control”. Faculty are effectively LMSs of their own; just as they actually are. If they weren’t experts in a topic with need of tools to facilitate gaining insight into that topic, then what are they doing? They are the source of knowledge that people want, and they need technology for managing the learning to take place. They are the ultimate LMS; something beyond a simple LMS. They form the human side of next generation digital learning environments (NGDLE).

They have fully flipped the technology implementation to be in total control of the learner experience.While today, Hibbitts’ vision of a flipped LMS requires many steps to accomplish and knowledge barriers exist, the future doesn’t have these issues.

Department, Colleges, and Institutional level staff and instructional designers work with faculty to improve this army of LMS-of-ones-own sea of solutions. Powered by open source, and open automation platforms like Jenkins, “control” and order can still be maintained from the institutional side while faculty are at the center of technology selection. They are constructing their technology suite, we are supporting them.

It’s not scary though it is radically different from today. Think of us all more like a mechanic. Most people don’t know how to perform work on their car, that’s why they go to a specialist. Most people can’t improve the horsepower of their car, they go to a specialist. That’s where we fit in. Instructional designers and IT working WITH the faculty directly to create and improve solutions instead of taking the opinion of into account when making decisions. This eliminates the “They just do what they want” mindset because..yea… of course they do, WE want them to do their own thing. It’s no longer us vs. them, it’s WE.

As technology gets more powerful, more automated, more free, and (most importantly) more usable every year; this no longer becomes some absurd vision of what could be, it’s what’s going to happen whether you like it or not. By encouraging redecentralization and admitting that (because of technology) it’s already happening, we can have greater control than if we stand in the way. Allow decentralization to happen, foster it, and you’ll have a seat in influence all those that we empower as part of the societal shift.

It’s the linear and logical progression of things as society orients itself more to blockchain then legacy top-down hierarchies. We all stand to benefit greatly when we stop worrying and get all hands on deck! 🙂

Windows into the future

ELMSLN Tool Builder: Fully automated idea to sustainable, code based innovation, without humans writing code.

Flipped LMS via Grav CMS: Paul Hibbitts LMS managed via Git / version control to use static files and turn them into a site. Once setup, instructors can deploy changes with one click!

tsugi: Dr. Chuck Severance’s PHP framework for creating tools as part of NGDLE.

Spawn: ELMSLN project to automate the creation of a system for automating the setup and management of EC2 deployments.

H5P: A distributed interaction creation platform for engaging, free platform that has free, remixable items that are produced.

Open Curriculum specification: Git based open curriculum specification to allow for getting something more powerful than just OER but creating interoperable OER that can stand up items in LMSs and NGDLEs.

Project Stark: ELMSLN project to envision a wearable, self upgrading, personal, distributed LMS that the owner keeps on them to collect and organize their knowledge. Initial work pictured below:


Project Stark Prototype: Hacked Google Cromebit + USB drive + ELMSLN = Distributed NGDLE of one’s own.


Laugh, Scoff, We have no need for these.

In 2007, I started my work career in a context completely resistant to Drupal for non-technical reasons. I’ve written about how we changed that and will receive my M.S. in December as a result of defending research surrounding it. It is a better solution, but as we’ve too often seen in the world of politics. The best ideas don’t often win. It’s the loudest, or those with the best marketing, or because “we’ve always done it this way” (Normalcy Bias).

One of the uniting pieces of media created early on in the movement, was an image depicting the groups using Drupal and those using other technologies (there were many, including Sitecore, Adobe CQ, Sharepoint, Plone, home grown, etc). I took this map, and then laid out Drupal-icons in spots I felt we could start to spread to, and those we already had. This was the simple battle plan of how we’d unify the community around a common platform. The critique is, largely, that I’m some kind of sociopath. That it’s some kind of strange obsession to win, and it’s fine if you feel that way. I don’t fault alternate interpretations of events.

It’s just, your camp. It’s your way, your click, if they just do what you say, oh I get it. It’s just so you can win

No.. It was never about me, it’s never been about how I can win. It’s about how we can win, by banding together. Speaking a common technical language, we can collaborate and build on each other’s efforts instead of working in silos of micro-innovation, imagine the macro-innovations we can all produce if we unify.

Change your community and you can change the world I’ve heard it said. And so we went, we started to unify our own community. Because we aren’t just people who show up to work. We love this place. We have a seemingly unbreakable bond and love of this place. It’s people, our friends, our neighbors and neighborhoods. How best to improve these connections and extend them beyond where they are other then community? How can we improve educational outcomes through uniting not based on products, but based on ideas.

And wow the amazing things we have been able to build. The excitement in the eyes of coworkers, colleagues, friends, when they actually bring to life ecosystems for learning. It’s grand, but it’s only the beginning..

A more ridiculous map was one written down in the notebook of a motivated, crazed, 20 something. A map that would be an unspoken, driving vision to prepare me for my 30s. Plots of land with dense forests of trees. Treating these trees each as beautiful, sharing the same general make up, but still being uniquely their own, was key to the visual. Distributed, dense, diverse, and beautiful each in their own way.

I get asked often what drives me.. It can largely boil down to a few “ridiculous” notions, those that cause visuals like the one in this post. We’re not just here to solve one or two problems. We’re here to set in motion a revolution of amazing ideas that are not cost prohibitive. Every day, we’re making things easier to use, easy to setup, better documented, more powerful. And most importantly, doing it all as FOSS, as donated effort. Others are going and starting to do the same; and while these network effects are currently small, they will continue to spiral.

Because Products are Ephemeral, and Movements are Eternal.

Why is OER so powerful? Because it’s more then just a phrase, it is a way of being. So too are we interested in helping bring about a revolution in open systems and the notion of what people have to pay for and what is “too technical” to use. We are a movement of Makers. We believe not only we can do these things, but that you can too. We know you can, and we want your awesome ideas to shine our community ever brighter.